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Before vows, a financial planner

By HELEN HUNTLEY
Published July 30, 2006


Julia Flood and Tom McCarthy spend their work days immersed in the arts, but when the St. Petersburg couple decided to get married, they sat down with a financial planner to work out a financial strategy. It's a smart move for any couple thinking about a walk down the aisle.

"Getting married for the first time is an emotional decision, but then you realize there are a lot of implications," said Flood, 50, artistic director of the Eckerd Theater Co. at Ruth Eckerd Hall. McCarthy, 46, is an artist, jewelry designer and teacher.

Clearwater financial planner Ray Ferrara examined the St. Petersburg couple's finances for AARP Bulletin and calculated that combining households could save them as much as $7,000 a year.

Flood doesn't think it will be that much, but she said there are savings to be had: "Insurance on both houses is quadrupling," Flood said. "The plan is to sell Tom's house, which is the smaller of the two, and create a studio space at my house to work in, if that looks affordable."

When they marry, McCarthy will join Flood's health insurance plan, which will provide him with better coverage for about the same premium.

Other financial issues they face are trickier. Ferrara recommended the couple use Flood's savings to pay off McCarthy's credit card debt of about $2,800. She said she's fine with that, but he's reluctant because some of the debt is tied to his business.

Ferrara also advised McCarthy to convert his traditional IRA to a Roth IRA and to set up his business as a limited liability company. In addition, he gave Flood advice on investing her 401(k).

"The really great thing about the process is that it got us talking about things that just don't come up in conversation," Flood said. " 'Do you think we should be invested in international stocks?' is not something we generally talk about. We found out we were more on the same page than we knew."

Their financial makeover was featured in the June issue of the Bulletin (www.aarp.org/bulletin).

One or more premarital sessions with a financial adviser offers couples three important advantages:

- Disclosure. Even if you don't plan to merge your money, honesty about debts and credit problems, as well as assets, is the best policy.

- Conflict avoidance. Understanding your attitudes toward money and your spending/saving habits allows you to develop strategies for avoiding land mines that could threaten your marriage.

- Goal setting. You can drastically improve your odds for achieving financial security if you agree on shared goals, then work toward them together.

I saw a job listing on Yahoo hotjobs for "USA Voice," and applied, giving my personal information. Then I did some Internet research and found out the company is a phishing scam. How can hotjobs continue to run the listing?

When I called Yahoo to inquire, they said the listing was being taken down. All job listings should be viewed with suspicion unless they are from companies you recognize with a street address you can check out.

Many scamsters run fake job listings solely to collect personal information they can use for fraud or sell. Do Internet research. Type the company name and the word "scam" in a search engine. Also check: Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) and Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov).

It's a red flag if the company asks for bank account or credit card information or a scan of your driver's license. Don't give your Social Security number until after you have verified the company is legitimate. Don't give personal information such as marital status. Avoid job listings involving money transfers or check cashing.

Of course, online job sites could do a better job of policing their listings. USA Voice advertised 1,200 job listings and claimed it would launch "the largest news organization in the world" this month, which you'd think would raise a few eyebrows.

Since you've given your personal information, you should call one of the credit bureaus to request a fraud alert on your file and then check your report frequently. You may be on a "sucker's list" and receive questionable solicitations, so be careful.

Helen Huntley writes about investing and markets for the Times. If you have a question about investments or personal finance, go to www.sptimes.com/blogs/money or write Helen Huntley, Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.